Exeter, Devon UK • May 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Screen Scoring the scene: When popular music and film soundtracks collide

Scoring the scene: When popular music and film soundtracks collide

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One of the most interesting developments by way of film score composers in recent years, has been the scores performed by Radiohead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, who has composed for films such as the 2007 feature There Will Be Blood, as well as Phantom Thread and 2012’s The Master, the first two films both starring Daniel Day Lewis, and all three being directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Whilst Greenwood controversially missed out on an Oscar nomination for There Will Be Blood, he did manage to receive one for Phantom Thread.

However, despite his prominence, Greenwood isn’t the only well-known musician to contribute a film score. David Byrne of Talking Heads fame is one such figure, having been a profound influence on Radiohead. His contribution to 1987’s The Last Emperor, is especially noteworthy.  Whilst this score was done in conjunction with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Byrne’s contributions are highly notable, with his variation on the main theme proving memorable, as well as the tracks such ‘Picking a Bride’ and ‘Paper Emperor’. He clearly has an affection for Chinese music and musicians from the region and his contribution feels perfectly natural. It’s a shame Byrne has never ventured heavily into film scores, as this contribution alone feels like he could have achieved a successful career in this area.

In a similar vein to Jonny Greenwood and his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson, Trent Reznor, lead vocalist and songwriter for Nine Inch Nails, has found success in composing the scores for several films by acclaimed director David Fincher (Zodiac, Gone Girl), most notably The Social Network, for which he won the Oscar for best original score. It is an immensely impressive score, quite spine tingling on occasion as well as menacing, deliberately contrasting Zuckerberg’s genius with a dark score.  Reznor has also scored Fincher’s two subsequent films, the 2011 English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as well as 2014’s Gone Girl. It seems Reznor, much like Greenwood, has found his feet in film score composition.

‘Lethal Weapon’s score provides a unique mix of jazz, classical overtones and smooth rock, Clapton’s guitar work playing a large part in its ability to succeed’

One of personal interest for me is the contribution made by legendary guitarist Eric Clapton (Cream) to film scores, especially in the latter stage of the 1980s. His most notable contributions are to all four films in the Lethal Weapon series, where his trademark guitar tone is mixed superbly with orchestration by Michael Kamen and saxophone parts by David Sanborn. The score provides a unique mix of jazz, classical overtones and smooth rock, Clapton’s guitar work playing a large part in its ability to succeed.

Prince has had a varied relationship in terms of film compositions, his 1984 landmark album ‘Purple Rain’, also serving as the soundtrack to the film of the same name. It was the final film to win the Oscar for Original Song Score. The soundtrack to Purple Rain has arguably endured a much warmer reception than the film it accompanied. Prince also contributed in tandem with Danny Elfman to 1989’s Batman from Tim Burton; this is a bizarre soundtrack and showcases Prince’s many influences, however it suits the quirkiness of Burton’s Batman vision.

Prince, who provided songs for 1989’s Batman

Nick Cave is perhaps one of the more successful popular musicians to turn his hand toward film score composition. He has collaborated with Violinist Warren Ellis on several highly acclaimed scores including The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Hell or High Water, as well as The Road and Wind River. It appears Cave is as adept at transfixing audiences with his chilling and immersive scores as he is at immersing listeners with his powerful and moody ballads.

Other musicians who have made the foray into film scores are Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys fame, who contributed towards Richard Ayoade’s debut film Submarine, as well as Bob Dylan who starred in a supporting role and performed the score for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; this appears to have been more a miss than a hit, in spite of producing one of his best known hits in ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’.  Cliff Martinez, a one-time drummer of Red Hot Chili Peppers has forged himself a highly impressive career in film scoring as well, contributing the stunning score to 2011’s Drive.

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